Bhairavi Ragini: Folio from a Ragamala Series

Early Master at the Mandi Court

ca. 1640–50
India (Mandi, Himachal Pradesh)
Opaque watercolor, silver, gold and ink on paper
Page: 10 9/16 x 8 1/16 in. (26.8 x 20.5 cm) Image: 9 x 6 1/2 in. (22.9 x 16.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1958
Accession Number:
  • Description

    A female devotee is worshiping at a Shiva shrine inside a palace compound; a lotus pond is in the foreground. She has made offerings of fresh flowers placed on the lingam and, as we know from the ragamala verse written above, is singing hymns in praise of her Lord, accompanied by hand cymbals (manjira). Intense glowing colors underscore the true theme of this subject, the passion of bhakti.

    About the Artist

    Early Master at the Court of Mandi
    Active at the court in Mandi in the reigns of Raja Hari Sen and Raja Suraj Sen, Himachal Pradesh, ca. 1635–60

    A distinctive corpus of Rajput-court works in a seventeenth-century Mughalesque style recently has been linked securely to the court in Mandi in the hill region of Himachal Pradesh in the second quarter of the century. This attribution of works under the nomenclature Early Master at the Court of Mandi provides firmer grounding for understanding the dynamics of the relationship between the seventeenth-century Rajput and Mughal art. It should not be surprising that art production closely mirrored political relationships; the Hindu Rajput courts, both on the plains and in the hill regions, increasingly came under the influence of Mughal court culture as they were progressively absorbed into the Mughal political sphere. That Raja Hari Sen of Mandi (r. 1604?–37) had his portrait painted in the Mughal manner of the Jahangir school is a clear attempt of a provincial ruler to emulate the metropolitan court culture of the day. The Takri script inscription names Mandi as its source. Access to Mughal court painting was made possible by allegiance-affirming visits of such rulers to the imperial capital, often accompanied by their elder son and heir, and also by periodic tours of the emperor. According to Jahangir’s own memoirs, the Jahangirnama, he conducted state visits to the hill states in 1622, 1623, and 1624, during which local rulers were received at his encampment. Eminent court painters such as Mansur, who was famed for his flower and animal studies, routinely accompanied the emperor on such state tours.

    Beginning under Raja Hari Sen and greatly stimulated under the reign of his son Suraj Sen (r. 1637–64), the Early Master of Mandi cultivated a new hybrid style that served the social and political needs of his patrons. It deftly merged Mughal elements into an essentially Rajput style. From the Mughal tradition, he borrowed linear perspective, attention to fine detailing, and a subdued palette, with subtle pastel coloring replacing the assertive colors of Hindu painting. The Early Master is identified most readily by his use of a lime-green ground, his signature color, directly emulating imperial portraits of the period.

    Subject matter reflected the pluralistic needs of the patrons. The portrayal of the raja in the Mughal mode, often complete with falcon, is a status marker of Mughal portraiture; Hindu divinities depicted in Rajput-style palace interiors, and contemporary townscapes provided the settings for scenes from the epic literature. The Early Master produced sophisticated and skilled paintings that reflect well the political needs and social aspirations of his patrons. With their passing, painting at the court of Mandi largely reverted to the prevailing Hindu style, exemplified by the work of the master painters responsible for the Devi and Rasamanjari series.